How does the story of Red Cloud, one of the most charismatic, cunning and brutal Native American warriors, the only American Indian chief to wage war against the U.S. Army and defeat it, go largely untold? Until now?
The nearly unimaginable answer comes at the end of this exquisitely told history in its end notes. There, the authors reveal that the book's compelling and fiery narrative was fueled by an autobiography Red Cloud dictated to a white friend late in his life, a firsthand account of immeasurable historical importance that went missing for a century.
But while Red Cloud's own words inform The Heart of Everything That Is (the title refers to the Sioux name for the Black Hills), they don't tilt it. This is no knee-jerk history about how the West was won, or how the West was lost. This historical chronicle is unabashed, unbiased and disturbingly honest, leaving no razor-sharp arrowhead unturned, no rifle trigger unpulled.
Best-selling authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin aren't new to these not-so-happy hunting grounds. They've collaborated on such titles as The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat and Last Men Out: The True Story of America's Heroic Final Hours in Vietnam — all action-packed, unforgiving, apparently true histories rescued from the most dire and desperate of times.
Here, the authors provide a detailed view of tribal life dating back centuries as the backstory to the mid-19th century nightmares that became America's history lesson in the destruction and forced migration of American Indians. Thanks to persistent and painstaking research, readers also get insight into the experience of the U.S. military, typically unsuspecting of what's to come after being relocated from the final days of the Civil War to the harrowing and deadly Wild West.
Embedded in this chronicle is a cast of unforgettable frontier personas worthy of their own books — first among them the larger-than-life trapper and scout Jim Bridger. But there are also such fascinating figures as the legendary Oglala warrior Crazy Horse who led guerrilla attacks for Red Cloud; the diabolic Methodist minister John Milton Chivington who loved to slaughter Indians; the dashing explorer John Bozeman who blazed a shortcut trail to Gold Country; and the ill-fated frontier photographer Ridgway Glover, among others.
But, frankly, neither historical side — not Red Cloud, the remarkable Oglala Lakota chief of the Western Sioux tribes, and his bloodthirsty warriors fighting to save their adopted land, nor the deceitful U.S. government and its slaughter-minded Army relentlessly expanding westward — comes out unscathed. Both prove adequately offensive to modern sensibilities. Neither can claim the moral high ground in what was a time of unrestrained violence, sickening cruelty and unspeakable acts.
Mayhem and carnage reside in these historical Plains and throughout the book's pages. Not all of the bullying, butchering (literally), rape, torture, disembowelment, scalping and beheadings, and the merciless killing of women and infants, can be rationalized by the unmitigated horrors of Manifest Destiny. Much of it, including Red Cloud's own troubling earlier years, was directed against other tribes. Tribes did it to subject other tribes to misery and slavery, to wipe them out completely, to take their land. Ironic, right?
This graphic story of Red Cloud's unusual guile and strategic genius makes the better-known Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse pale in comparison.
If you're a novice to Native American history, prepare for cultural whiplash. If you've been down this path before, The Heart of Everything That Is will prove to be a remarkably detailed account of who the largely forgotten and most successful American Indian chef really was.